Matchups to watch in the Warriors-Grizzlies series

Three key matchups to watch in the Warriors-Grizzlies series originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO — The matchups are compelling. Stephen Curry and Jordan Poole versus Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks. Klay Thompson versus Desmond Bane. Draymond Green vs. Jaren Jackson Jr. It’s a captivating mix of established NBA All-Stars and brash tyros ready to make a statement.

And yet, the Priority One mission for the Warriors in this Western Conference semi-final against the Grizzlies – game 1 is scheduled for Sunday at 12:30 p.m. PDT – is largely in the hands of a drifter who landed on them last October after being rocked by the NBA and its G League for five years.

Gary Payton II, whether he starts or comes off the bench, will try to keep Morant from getting what he wants. The Grizzlies are an attacking offense, and Ja is the point man. Slow Ja down, you slow his team down.

“Gary really played so well against Denver, a real key in Game 5 and also in Game 3, knocking down shots and defending,” coach Steve Kerr said Saturday. “His pick-and-roll defense at the end of Game 5 was incredible. We’re going to need it against Ja, that’s for sure. Gary will see a lot from this game, among other things.

“Gary is, I think, a player built for the playoffs. It’s his kind of game.”

GP2 made the difference in Game 5 of the series against the Nuggets. His extraordinary fourth quarter was at the center of the comeback that led the Warriors to victory.

What makes GP2 so valuable against Memphis is its athleticism. The Grizzlies are among the most athletic teams in the NBA, and he’s Golden State’s most athletic guard, so much so that he spends as much or more time than a 6-foot-3 forward in the role of “dunking”. He finished with 54, third on the team, 19 behind second Jonathan Kuminga and eight ahead of fourth Andrew Wiggins.

GP2, Wiggins and Kuminga are Kerr’s best options to offset Memphis’ strength.

“The Memphis athletics will require us to be super vigilant on the glass and in transition,” Kerr said. “We cannot count behind. We will definitely need Wiggs and Gary, their speed and athleticism, as well as JK, to counter that.

GP2 is especially important due to its ability to stay ahead of even the sneakiest guards. It’s imperative for a Warriors team without an elite rim protector.

And there’s this: In 16 regular-season minutes against GP2, Ja had five turnovers and managed just seven points on 2-for-12 shooting from the field. Payton blocked a shot and also recorded two interceptions.

No matchup in this series is more important to the Warriors than GP2 against Ja, but three others are important enough to affect the outcome.

Green vs. Jackson

Although it’s a very different mission than Draymond had against Denver’s Nikola Jokic, the reigning MVP, Jackson is one of the few big men who can match his pace from start to finish. At 6-foot-11, Jackson is also a solid rim protector — he’s led the league in blocks — but can be baited into fouls. Although he’s only 22, he’s solid on pick-and-roll defense.

Draymond is among the best blocking artists in the league. It’s an asset he’ll need against Jackson and Grizzlies power forward Brandon Clarke, as both excel in offensive rebounds. That’s where Wiggins and Kuminga come in. They’ll have to be there for Draymond. If they’re effective on the inside, that’s a big win for Golden State.

“You have to be diligent,” Kerr said. “You have to hit bodies. You have to be really sharp. And you have to accept the fact that they are going to get some. But as long as we make this effort every time, we will be able to limit them. This will be the key.

Curry/Poole vs. Brooks

Brooks is one of those defenders who pushes the boundaries of what’s allowed on defense, pushing, punching, occasionally hip-throwing. Whether assigned to Steph (which is usually the case) or JP, Brooks will try to play hardball.

If he can get away with it – which is not always the case; he, too, is foul-prone — there’s a chance he could frustrate Poole, who played poorly in three games against Memphis in the regular season. He shot 37.8% from the field and 28.6% from range.

RELATED: Why Warriors Should Have Slight Edge Over Young Grizzlies

Curry knows what to expect from Brooks and will have counters, including actions that will test Brooks’ ability to defend flawlessly.

Curry and Poole are better on offense than Brooks on defense. They should have the advantage. It will be interesting to see what assignment Brooks gets – and more interesting to see where he goes when Curry and Poole are on the floor together.

Thompson vs. Bane

They have similar body types, though Bane is slightly thicker, so it’s logical to believe they’ll see each other a lot. Both are sniper 3-point shooters capable of scoring in clusters, with Klay shooting 45.8% from deep in the first round against the Nuggets, while Bane shot 49.1% against the Timberwolves.

It’s not as simple as saying that whoever is most effective gives their team the best chance of winning, but it’s the first measure of their impact.

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